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Family sitting on couch discussing something serious

What comes to mind when you hear the term social worker?”

Depending on your personal experiences, you may think of a couple of types of social workers like a school social worker, or one that helps children in ‘the system.’ One type of social worker that may not come to your mind is one that helps the seriously ill and their families, like the social workers at Hosparus Health. Although these are all social workers—can you describe what they do?

The National Association of Social Workers states there is an estimated 682,000 social workers in the United States, and it is one of the fastest growing professions in the country. Social work is a profession that helps people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Sounds pretty important, doesn’t it?

At Hosparus Health, social workers are one piece of our interdisciplinary care teams that are part of each patient’s care, whether in our hospice program or palliative care program. They are not the obvious team member, like the doctor, nurse, or CNA, and they don’t do the ‘obvious’ tasks—however they sometimes do the most meaningful and stress relieving tasks that can change the entire end of life experience for a family.

I sat down with a few of our social workers and asked them questions about the job in general, and at Hosparus Health in particular, and found out that even I had a thing or two to learn.

  1. On an average day, how many families do you meet with? And are they mostly in person meetings or also mixed with phone calls?
    If the social worker is ‘in the field’ or does patient care directly, they may have 3-5 visits in person a day and do an additional couple of phone calls to patients.

  2. What types of tasks/help do you provide as a social worker at Hosparus Health? (things that no one may think of that can help with any burden on the family).
    We journey with patients and their families with an empathetic approach to discover their needs. We create a space for them to be their authentic selves. Once we understand those needs, we create an actionable plan to respond–this looks different for every person.

    That plan may include: advanced directives, living wills, POA’s, obtaining a lost social security card, getting approval for a member of the military to come home for the death of their parent, securing a safe place for a patient to live out the last days of their life, assisting with Medicaid paperwork, and providing other external resources.

  3. If you had to define a Hosparus Health social worker, how would you?
    A Hosparus Health social worker…
    – is a trained mental health professional, that assists with all psychosocial needs, including emotional support and day to day resources.
    – meets with the patient and family to assess their needs at that time, to help them set goals and help them be independent and functioning as they can as long as they can. They think outside the box, things aren’t black and white. They really are advocates for the patient and their requests.

  4. Largest misconception about what you do?
    – people think we are just “do gooders” versus an actual identified profession with a degree and many licenses
    – people think we just help people get on Medicaid.
    – “I don’t need anything specific, I don’t need a social worker,” people think if they don’t have a “problem” they don’t need us.

  5. Favorite part about what you do?
    It’s a privilege to meet a complete stranger that opens up their life to us and we get to partner with them for the final days of their life— this creates a special bond—we get to hold respect, hold space in their lives, and be supportive. We love meeting the people and being a part of that journey.

  6. Fill in the blank: I could not do my job without my _______ (i.e., phone)
    – A calling. It’s hard work, and a calling is a reason to do it.
    – The support of fellow social workers at Hosparus Health, I need their engagement, knowledge, and expertise.

    social workers celebrating together

    A few of our Hosparus Health Social Workers celebrating what they do at a “Nacho Average Social Worker” lunch

  7. What is the most off the wall experience you have had or done that when you think of it you say “wow, yeah, that REALLY happened” or “I can’t believe I accomplished that one”?
    There were MANY stories for this answer, as one can imagine. But here were a few of my favorite:

    – One time, I had a patient’s cat get in my car, eat my sandwich, and then just stayed there. I didn’t notice until I got down the road.
    – I had to get a ride to a house up a hill during an ice storm on a sled pulled by a 4-wheeler. However, to get back down the hill we had to scoot on our bottoms. True story…really!
    – Getting to a patient’s home in a flood sometimes calls for water patrol and a canoe.
    – Getting all my documentation for all my patients done before 6 pm is usually an accomplishment (although mundane).

All in a day’s work as a Hosparus Health social worker.